BACKGROUND: In spring 2020, U.S. universities closed campuses to limit the transmission of COVID-19, resulting in an abrupt change in residence, reductions in social interaction, and in many cases, movement away from a heavy drinking culture . The present mixed-methods study explores COVID-19-related changes in college student drinking . We characterize concomitant changes in social and location drinking contexts and describe reasons attributed to changes in drinking .
METHODS: We conducted two studies of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on drinking behavior, drinking context, and reasons for both increases and decreases in consumption among college students . Study 1 (qualitative) included 18 heavy-drinking college students (M age = 20.2; 56% female) who completed semi-structured interviews . Study 2 (quantitative) included 312 current and former college students who reported use of alcohol and cannabis (M age = 21.3; 62% female) and who completed an online survey .
RESULTS: In both studies, COVID-19-related increases in drinking frequency were accompanied by decreases in quantity, heavy drinking, and drunkenness . Yet, in Study 2, although heavier drinkers reduced their drinking, among non-heavy drinkers several indices of consumption increased or remained stable . Both studies also provided evidence of reductions in social drinking with friends and roommates and at parties and increased drinking with family . Participants confirmed that their drinking decreased due to reduced social opportunities and/or settings, limited access to alcohol, and reasons related to health and self-discipline . Increases were attributed to greater opportunity (more time) and boredom and to a lesser extent, lower perceived risk of harm and to cope with distress .
CONCLUSION: This study documents COVID-19-related changes in drinking among college student drinkers that were attributable to changes in context, particularly a shift away from heavy drinking with peers to lighter drinking with family . Given the continued threat of COVID-19, it is imperative for researchers, administrators, and parents to understand these trends as they may have lasting effects on college student drinking behaviors.
Index: Alcohol, COVID, College, Context, Pandemic